Sir Philip Green once jokingly called his wife’s vast income ‘housekepping money’. When, in a rare interview, Lady Green was asked about the resentment her wealth caused, she said: “It’s about how England is. And its too scary for me!!” Well England is a lot angrier now with Sir Philip and Lady Green. With calls to strip the retail tycoon of his knighthood over the sale and collapse of BHS and the superyacht-sized hole in its pension scheme, there is intense focus on the king of retail and his Monaco-based queen.
Green bought BHS for £200 million in 2000 and sold it for £1 last year. While that might on the face of it sound like a personal misfortune for Green it was anything but. Within four years of the purchase he had paid himself and his wife Tina £358 million in dividends – nearly twice as much as it had cost him to buy the company. Yet despite his own finances being in such rude shape between 2000 and 2004, BHS’s pension fund swung from a healthy surplus to a deficit of £81 million. That deficit has since grown to an estimated £571 million.
For tax purposes, Green is British, allowing him to spend as much time as he wishes in London, where he runs his businesses. He commutes there via private jet from the French Riviera, the stretch of coastline once described by novelist Somerset Maugham as a ‘sunny place for shady people’, often overnighting in a Mayfair hotel. By contrast, Sir Philip’s wife, Lady Green, is resident full-time in Monte Carlo where the income tax rate is handily zero!!. And, crucially, almost all of his business assets are ultimately held in her name. As a result, many dividend payments taken out of his companies are not liable to UK tax. In 2005, she famously received £1.2 billion in this manner, avoiding around £300 million that would have been due to the Exchequer had she lived in the UK. “I’m not criticising success,” comments Frank Field MP, who is the Chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee in the House of Commons. “There’s nothing wrong with people who make fortunes and sail around in expensive yachts, provided they pay taxes and don’t leave mega-holes in pension funds. But Philip Green is different. He should be regarded as a pariah.”
With regard to Sir Philip’s tax status, the friend adds: “His firms have paid £2 billion in direct and indirect tax in the past ten years. He’s never tried any rinky-dinky stuff with HMRC, like Starbucks and Google. Arcadia [which owns his High Street companies] is based in the UK, and pays corporation tax in Britain. He also employs tens of thousands of people, has saved some of the biggest brands on the High Street and is one of the best trainers of talent in UK history. He’s a huge supporter of charities and does a lot of good stuff on the quiet. So to call him some sort of villain is complete b******t!!??”
Maybe so. But that won’t stop people trying, particularly when regulators start digging into the detail of his stewardship of BHS. Analysis of the firm’s accounts by experts at the business consultancy Opus Restructuring show that, during 15 years under Green’s control, it made a tiny combined taxable profit of £78 million, during good years and bad, on a vast turnover of £11 billion. Yet over this time, £807 million was taken from its books and funnelled to other firms owned by Sir Philip. Around £252 million of that £807 million was ‘management charges’ paid to his Arcadia Group, in return for accounting and other services. Another £141 million was ‘ground rent’ for the use of stores and offices, while £414 million was paid to Lady Green by way of dividends. “What is particularly hard to swallow is the dividends,” says Nick Hood, who carried out the research. “£414 million was stripped out of the business, which only managed to make overall profits of a paltry £78 million during the 15 years under Sir Philip’s control. No wonder BHS has ended up such a shabby High Street presence, starved of the investment needed to modernise its stores and beef up its pallid online offering.”
It seems that in a world of haves, have yachts and have superyachts, there are also the Greens, who have two superyachts and are soon to take delivery on a third, a 90m floating tower of decks, pools, whirlpool baths, state rooms and staff quarters, called Lionheart, the biggest creation from the yard of the Italian luxury boatbuilder Benetti. Summer isn’t summer in the Mediterranean without photographs of Green tanning his prosperous belly on the deck on the deck of one of his yachts with the likes of Simon Cowell, Kate Moss, Sylvester Stallone and Naomi Campbell.
Well there were no billionaires to be seen among the 14 Tables who turmed up to contest our regular Club Night yesterday evening at the Oxshott Bridge Club!! You can read all about the evening's play in the Report by clicking on the "Competitions" tab in the Menu to the left of this box. Alternatively you can study the full Leaderboard and the individual Travellers by clicking on the "Latest Result" button at the top right of this page. All the Competition Tables have been updated to include even last night's results, so you can check how YOU are performing by clicking on the "Competitions" tab and again on each of the various Competitions run by the Club.